Apple has had a busy 2015: It has not only evolved its existing SDKs, but added new SDKs to support new platforms. Late last year, Apple announced the Apple Watch, along with a preliminary WatchKit SDK. This year, at WWDC, Apple released its much-promised, more fully fleshed out iteration of WatchKit, renamed watchOS.
Apple also announced ResearchKit, an open-sourced initiative to garner big data for medical research and advances. This year also saw the release of the new Apple TV, which has finally been opened up to third-party developers. Under the tvOS framework, Apple TV sports a new hardware and operating system, with the software giant hoping the developer community can now do for the Apple TV what it has done for iOS.
Apple has continued the trend of engaging more with its developer community--for one thing, by open sourcing Swift. Stating its intent back at WWDC, the company has finally followed through on its promise.
Apple has also updated iOS to Version 9, introducing a whole bunch of new SDK gems, from force touch/3D touch on both OSX and iOS, true split-screen multitasking, deep linking through Search API, and more. Apple’s acquired TestFlight distribution platform also gained some valuable updates. We will go through all of the big SDK changes from Apple this year, starting with its prodigy language, Swift.
Swift 2.0 & Swift.org
Apple introduced Swift out of left field, back at WWDC 2014, as a future replacement for Objective-C. The idea is that Swift would be a more type-safe, concise and modern programming language to power Apple’s ecosystem of apps on iOS, Apple Watch, OSX and, in 2015, tvOS.
At the 2015 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, Swift graduated from 1.2 to 2.0, with the announcement that it would be open-sourced. In November 2015, Version 2.2 was finally designated as open-source, under the Apache License 2.0 framework.
This is regarded as a huge deal for the tech giant, which traditionally leans toward the closed side. It is now moving toward a more collaborative mindset as it looks to propel Swift from being an Apple-exclusive language to the ambitious goal of becoming prevalent as a server language, as a cloud language, and more.
“By making Swift open source, the entire developer community can contribute to the programming language and help bring it to even more platforms,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering. “Swift’s power and ease of use will inspire a new generation to get into coding, and with today’s announcement they’ll be able to take their ideas anywhere, from mobile devices to the cloud.”
Apple has also launched the swift.org Web site to connect its open-source community, enabling contributors to find technical documentation, perform reporting and tracking, access community guidelines, contribute instructions, and access the github repository link.
In March of this year, Apple announced ResearchKit, an initiative to support the medical research community in improving and advancing their studies and research, through the power of big data. Working together with HealthKit, Apple’s consumer-facing Health framework for tracking activities and eating habits, Apple hopes researchers will be able get more accurate and larger sets of data that will help get the next big medical discovery breakthrough.
“Medical researchers are doing some of the most important work in the world, and they’re committed to making life-changing discoveries that benefit us all. To help, we’ve created ResearchKit, an open source software framework that makes it easy for researchers and developers to create apps that could revolutionize medical studies, potentially transforming medicine forever,” according to Apple.
Like Swift 2.2, ResearchKit has also been open-sourced, to entice researchers to share their development methodologies and practices.
The three basic modules are surveys, active tasks, and informed consent. Researchers and developers can use the modules as they are, or expand upon them to suit their own needs. Apple says ResearchKit is flexibile enough to handle most research situations. The Active Tasks module has its own set of parameters for tracking, such as motor activities, fitness, cognition, and voice.
Apple Watch & watchOS 2
The Apple Watch was announced in September 2014 and slated for release in April 2015. When the watch first came out, the first iteration of WatchKit, 1.0, did not allow for fully native apps. Apple promised that capabilitiy would come later in 2015. And so it did. At 2015’s WWDC, Apple released the second iteration of WatchKit, renamed watchOS.
Among several enhancements for users and greater accessibility for developers, the next-generation Apple Watch OS is powered by the ability to run native apps, enhancing functionality and reducing latency.
Supporting native apps, watchOS allows apps to run on the watch, rather than having to piggy back off the processing power of the iPhone. This significantly boosts performance, and offers the freedom of decoupling the watch from the iPhone. So, you can, for example, go for a run without the phone and still be able to process data such as miles run and calories burned (for deferred syncing on the iPhone or via Wi-Fi).
Apple has also expanded the capabilities of the SDK, to allow developers to access more hardware and software features of the wearable device, including access to the digital crown, accelerometer, gyroscope and other sensors. Apple has also released ClockKit, giving developers the ability to create custom watch face widgets, to supplement its existing watchOS and iOS apps.
Apple has also revamped what has traditionally been Apple’s hobby platform, the Apple TV. AppleTV debuted all the way back in 2007; the new tvOS finally allows third-party developers and content makers to contribute and build the new ecosystem.
Along with new hardware specs and a Siri-controlled remote, Apple has opened up the previously closed platform. Where at one time it allowed only a select few content providers--such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO and ESPN--it has now opened up the platform to all developers.
The new Apple TV sports much more robust hardware–with more RAM and an A8 processor--to match what Apple has on its iOS devices. All of this supports the new tvOS SDK, opening up Apple TV to third-party developers and enabling them to create the same immerseful and engaging games, apps and Netflix-style video platforms that users have grown accustomed to on iOS.
The new Apple TV ecosystem will now be about more than just passive entertainment consumption, providing the ability for developers to introduce engaging games such as Guitar Hero, as well as apps that enable capabilities such as shopping and travel booking, providing a new shared paradigm of app interaction.
With the introduction of iOS 9 this year, Apple has jumped into the deep-linking bandwagon, allowing third-party apps to add deeper and more contextual searches on a system-level. Apple’s Search API lets apps become more discoverable--at a deeper level.
We now have an API for search. So now when a user performs a search, we can find content behind the apps they have installed on the device, and pull those up in results. And when they tap, they’re deep linked directly into the application. We even provide a convenient back link so they can get right back to their search results. We think these kinds of intelligence features really make a huge difference in your experience in iOS. (Craig Federighi)
Just as the Apple Mail app allows users to search for individual emails, third-party apps like Meetup can expose individual events for Spotlight searching. For example, on a cooking app like Yummly, searching for potatoes would show recipies that include potatoes.